Multimodality in the Composition Classroom

 

In Towards a Composition Made Whole, Jody Shipka argues that we should reconsider college composition. In Chapter 1, she begins her argument by summarizing the traditional approach to teaching writing in college. Shipka argues that multimodal assignments should be a part of composition classrooms to make the learning relevant to students. She says that tools like social network and editing software can promote a multimodal learning experience. At the same time, she wants to avoid defining multimodal as strictly the technological tools that we use. Instead she argues that students can have a true multimodal learning experience “negotiat[ing]– an interplay of words, images, sounds, scents and movement (21). She supports this definition because it reflects students’ out of class literacy practices, one that is dynamic and reflective of their unique discourse communities.

 

In addition, Shipka notes the traditional practice of teaching college composition often alienates students and she says instructors can overcome this perception by transforming writing as a process for creating authentic communication. She argues that the traditional way of teaching freshman composition creates an artificial corridor around the skills developed in a classroom, hard to acquire and just as difficult to employ outsides the classroom. Instead, Shipka encourages instructors to equip students with an “experimental attitude” so that they see that literacy is context dependent and part of a social practice. To accomplish this lofty goal, instructors should be mindful of helping students develop transferable skills, by weaving students’ out of school writing practices into their teaching while shepherding students through a process to tailor their writing to fit their audience, purpose and genre.

 

I am glad that Shipka clarified what multimodal assignments should be. I initially thought that it should be about the use of technology or the use of visual images. I think my initial definition of multimodality was underdeveloped. I agree with her that we should help our students negotiate and mold different texts and have them interact with one another. We do live in a dynamic world with technology disrupting our very conception of writing. I think it would be useful to incorporate multimodal texts into the classroom so that students see that composition can include a lot of different mediums.

 

At the same time, I am also mindful that many of us operate in an academic setting where there are certain conventions that give students power and access. In that case, I believe that it is still important to teach students how to write for an academic audience. Shipka says instructors can be comprehensive by incorporating multimodality into their instruction and teach academic composition. Shipka says there is enough time to do it all but I question her stance. There are Student Learning Outcomes to follow and I will be evaluated based on my ability to meet these standards. I am afraid that privileging multimodal assignments leaves me little time to meet my SLOs. I see multimodality as text to introduce to the class but I would not assign the production of a multimodal assignment because I don’t know how valuable it is for their academic experience. I can have my students write a visual essay but what happens when they go to their history class and they are asked to write a research paper? Have I failed my students if I don’t teach them how to write a type of paper that is privileged in academia?

 

 

 

 

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WoW…I’m Not Sure About Playing Games in the Classroom, Especially World of Warcraft.

Video games have been a major part of my life experience ever since I was able to hold a controller and barely move and jump in Super Mario Brothers or swing a sword in The Legend Of Zelda for the NES.

 

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Sources: Rebubble and Nitwitty

My experience with gaming has evolved over the years from home consoles to handheld devices to PC gaming. I have spent around 7 of the last 10 years of my experience with gaming has evolved over the years from home consoles to handheld devices to PC gaming. I have spent around 7 of the last 10 years of World of Warcraft’s (WoW) existence playing the game as well as playing League of Legends, Hearthstone, and other multiplayer games and I would love nothing more than to find a way to incorporate video games or game design concepts into the classroom on some scale. From digging into writings by pieces by Bogost, Alberti, and Gee on what we can learn from gaming, game design, and gaming concepts, I was sure that introducing these kinds of concepts into the classroom could be wildly successful.  I was all ready to pop the champagne and celebrate, but then…

I really wanted to write an entirely positive article, but I guess I am too enticed by challenging academics at their assertions because once I started reading the Colbys’ article I slammed on the proverbial brakes and turned that celebration car around, faster than you could say “LEEEEEEEEEEEEEROY JEEEEEEEENKINS!

And on that day, a meme was born.

“A Pedagogy of Play: Integrating Computer Games into the Writing Classroom” by Rebekah Shultz Colby and Richard Colby weaves an idyllic world where they could advertise a class in which the entire class would spend the semester playing Blizzard Entertainment’s wildly successful and still very popular game, WoW, and I am here to try to (probably unsuccessfully) tactfully explain why this would be a terrible idea that would not work outside of isolated cases. Maybe this type of class is not supposed to be adopted in any significant way in a school system. I find that kind of exclusivity to be a bit reprehensible, which is why I am so incensed at the notion of WoW or any high-intensity computer game, being used as the core aspect of a classroom.

If my work at community colleges and life as a student has been any indication, many students would not have the resources to be able to take the opportunity offered by this class. Sure, at Denver University, a private college where tuition currently sits at around 15,096 dollars a semester, students might be able to afford a computer with the capabilities necessary to run WoW well enough to play the game. However, if implemented where I live, go to school, and work, I do not believe this would be the case. While many students have laptops, most of them are basic machines that are built with only the bare essentials to utilize programs like Microsoft Office, Facebook (maybe casual games on said website), and content streaming services.

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Given these choices, many would take the HP. Credit: Freebies2deals

Predominantly, these are the kinds of computers that are advertised to students by stores like Best Buy: non-gaming computers with no dedicated graphics processor that would barely run the game if at all. One would need to buy a laptop that  costs around $700 to run the game in a way that is playable.  Further, WoW requires its own monetary subscription of $15 a month after you buy the game, which, at this current moment, involves spending at around $40 to purchase the game and the most recent expansion. I would fear that students would not be totally clear on what they would need when signing up for a class like this and then have to drop, leaving them sans an important class for their GE. None of the financial aspects of this endeavor are examined in the paper; the authors only made the point that “WoW has relatively low system requirements.” Send a message to any PC gamer and ask them if playing on the lowest settings makes a game fun to play. The answer you will probably get is:

This class concept is not feasible or accessible to the larger student population of an American college campus, especially community colleges.

I would also question a student’s time dedication to be able to participate in this class. Unless you are already an avid WoW player, which the paper identifies is not required, there is a huge amount of time that a player must commit to gain expertise in any aspect of the game without putting in a significant amount of research on other websites (and I would argue that both of these are required to be able to contribute to a wiki or make a guide on the game). For some students, playing the game might take far in excess of the expected time, and, even then, I would be concerned how much time would be required to play the game in addition to time spent doing the various class writing assignments. Leveling a character, finding and immersing oneself in a guild, leveling a profession, and learning how the mechanics of the game work take hours upon hours of play and research even in the current version of the game which is MUCH simpler than it was in 2008 when this article was published. Most active guilds will not look at you twice if you are not at or near max level and player interaction is minimal outside of a guild. In addition, you just do not learn enough about the game or its community at low levels.

 

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This is my most recent character and I have not even gotten him to max level.

And I sort of know what I am doing half the time.

The Colbys only identify two cases of students in this experimental class environment, “Josh, an experienced WoW player” and Tiffany who had a roommate who played WoW often and took the class with her. I was disappointed by the lack of other representative experiences for this proposal of a WoW classroom if a student was not a WoW player. There was no real consideration of what to do if one or more of the students in the class decided that they did not like the game besides the result of dropping, which, again, really punishes the student.

I honestly do not know of a massively multiplayer online style game that would dodge both of these serious issues with this pedagogy. I want to love this idea. I REALLY want to. But just like any game community, even if one could find a way to make this work, I doubt its longevity. Semester to semester a teacher might have to find a new game or gaming community as games die and a new fad emerges. When this article was written WoW was the biggest PC game that had ever existed boasting around ten million subscribers, but now the game has less than half of that number and seems to still be declining.

 

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Now down to around 5.5 million subs.

A multiplayer online battle arena (moba) like League of Legends would be the WoW of today, but who know how long that game would last (Nor would I ever subject my students to that game’s community. I have been called every slur, profanity and disgusting use of language imaginable when I am playing badly in that game. It is the YouTube comments section of video games. Only click this if you want an example. It is not safe for work because of the intense language.)

Gaming is definitely a New Media Literacy that, as time passes, more and more students will be playing in some fashion. Involving games, game design, and gaming rhetoric in the classroom is worth studying. Programs like Classcraft are already paving the way for creating augmented reality games in the classroom environment. To me, this is the most exciting use of the excursions composition academics have been making, in addition to using video games as a way of studying rhetoric and genre in the classroom.

I think it is about time to end this rant and hope that this even fits the bill for this blog. I leave you again with an OC remix of the week. This is Legend of Zelda: ALttP ‘Come to the Dark Side, It’s a Funky Place’ by Nostalvania:

 

 

Social Media: The Renaissance Self-Expression and Community.. or is it?

I have spent the last few hours pondering what Micheal Wesch would say about the changes in spaces like Youtube and other social media since he made his video on Web 2.0 and his anthropological study of Youtube. Once upon a time, (though really it was not that long ago) vlogs and other personal videos were absolutely the predominant videos and content type on Youtube. Looking all the way back at 2006 we see much of what was being discussed by Wesch in simple user generated videos with just a few thousand views sitting on the front page.

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Credit: Graphitas

I am sure if we used The Way Back Machine then we would see many response videos, even to these front page entries. If we take a peek at the front page of Youtube today, the field has completely changed. Every front page is tailor made for the person who is consuming the media, especially if you have any viewing history or an account linked to your Youtube habits.

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As you can see, the trending videos look like a Hollywood catalog; they are almost completely comprised of massive company sponsored channels or the titanic channels with hundreds of thousands of subscribers making professional content for our consumption. Now, I am not saying that this is necessarily bad, since millions of hours of entertainment have arisen from the ability of an individual to monetize their videos on Youtube, but the community of videos that was so exciting to Welsh ten years ago is dying if it is not completely dead already. It seems that a significant amount of social media is moving away from being a way of interconnectivity toward being a way to create or popularize a brand. Even my own Facebook feed has become more of a space to see updates from news and entertainment sites than just seeing what a friend is up to on any given day, resulting from giving a page or website a “Like.” Is there a new social media that has replaced this phenomenon? Maybe Vines? Snapchat? My experience with these new medias are limited so I have no real idea if those kinds of apps are filling this void.

Moving to a slightly different sphere, in “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites,” Amber Buck examines what she calls, (finally…at the end of the article) “a rather extreme case of social network site use.” Throughout this study, her subject, Ronnie, is shown to be trying to make a “brand” much like the celebrities that we see on Twitter, Facebook, and other networking websites. I feel that this discussion is a bit disingenuous as a result because it is not indicative of most students practices on a social networking site. While we all create an online identity, I do not believe that most people are developing as complex rhetorical skills that Ronnie is displaying and Buck is discussing nor do I think most people are trying to generate fans and fame from their social media exploration. To me this kind of study just screams outlier case.

(As a side note her abstract mentions that the literacy practices we explore include navigating user agreements, which means that she thinks that many young adults read them.)

 

Now this is not to discount that rhetorical  and genre learning is going on and we as teachers cannot take advantage of that, but social media and how people, especially youth, interact with that media evolves faster than we can build data and studies on how to incorporate it into pedagogy and the classroom. We have read many papers examining Myspace, but that website is now a wasteland with most people’s profiles sitting derelict, an interesting photograph of our past social media lives. It makes me wonder how much of that study is still relevant as things so rapidly change. I am extremely interested in what the next few years hold and how social media and literacies will continue to evolve.

Will we see another website emerge to replace Facebook? Or has the evolution of social media begun to settle and slow down? If students are as active as Ronnie and I am just ignorant of this, then how might we best bring this to the forefront in the classroom?

I think I have rambled like a terrible cynic for long enough today. So I shall do what I always will and leave you all with an OC remix of the day. This is a remix by FoxyPanda of the famous “Aquatic Ambiance” Theme from Donkey Kong Country. Cheers!

Unmediated Publics? Those are So Last Millennium.

In “Why Youth ❤ Social Network Sites,” Danah Boyd explores why teenagers are drawn to social networking sites, what they express on the sites, how the sites fit into their lives, what they’re learning from participating on them, and whether or not their activities online are equivalent, different, or supplementary to in-person friendships (119). Boyd’s research mostly focuses mainly on MySpace-using teens, aged 14 to 18.

(Sidebar: Boyd has the most awesome job, ever! I would love to do this research; I wonder if she needs a Research Associate to help her out? I will be available starting in June, but I digress…)

“…Social network sites are a type of networked public with four properties that are not typically present in face-to-face public life: persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences” (120).

Boyd’s description of “public” in reference to social networking is very interesting: She describes it as not just a collection of people who may or may not know one another, but also something that is “quite similar to audience as both referred to a group founded by a shared text, whether that is a worldview or a performance” (125). Specifically, Boyd refers to two types of networked publics – spaces and audience as connected through technological networks, such as MySpace or, most recently, Instagram. These networks (mediating technologies) mediate communication between members of the public.

Mediated Publics – Inquiring Minds Want To Know

So, what separates unmediated publics from networked publics?

  • Persistence: The Internet never forgets! Code: Your embarrassing moment or terrible public break-up are probably going to be there forever. Future employers can also dig up dirt from your red cup-enhanced party days.
  • Searchability: You can run, but you can never hide. You have a digital footprint, and folks will find you.
  • Replicability: (Wuh-oh!) Rumors spread quickly and indiscriminately. Also, folks can quickly and easily plagiarize (hence: heavy use of turnitin.com amongst teachers).
  • Invisible audiences: Lurkers abound, stalking your page. Or maybe you’re the digital stalker…

Essentially, these mediated publics are very … well … public, and in an especially widespread fashion. And while this can be problematic for most of us older folks, it’s especially challenging for young whippersnappers to navigate. This is especially the case as teenagers tend to have even less of a concept of how magnified their public exposure is, and the potential downfalls of that exposure.

In light of these potential downfalls, why do youth venture into the exciting and potentially dangerous land of social networks? In short, they want to socialize! Instead of hanging out at Valley Fair Mall, like my friends and I did back in the Stone Age 1990s, today’s youth connect via heavy social network use.

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Social networks also “enable youth to connect with peers in new ways…to extend the friendships that they navigate in the familiar contexts of school, religious organizations, words, and other activities” (Ito, et al, 2008, p. 1). Basically, they’re always “around” in digital form, and there’s no parental gatekeeper taking messages via landline or portable phone, 1998-style.

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“Hello? I’m sorry, but Monica can’t accept phone calls after 10pm on a school night…”

Furthermore, Amber Buck, in “Examining Digital Literacy Practices on Social Network Sites,” argues that social media platforms allow students to represent and cultivate their identities, not only through intricate pages, but also through the messages they transmit via Tweet, meme, or picture (2012). Social networks give teens the opportunity to practice image management through something other than wardrobe, car selection, or other more “traditional” status markers. And most of all, social networks give teenagers more agency over how and when they will “hang out” with friends and acquaintances. Of course youth ❤ social media sites!

 

Blogging: Authentic or Manufactured?

 

“Learning to Write Publicly: Promises and Pitfalls of Using Weblogs in the Composition Classroom” by John Benson and Jessica Reyman offered a study that was meant to inform college writing teachers the pros and cons of assigning blogs in and out of the composition classroom. For the purpose of their study, blogs were defined as a public Web 2.0 writing forum technology. They acknowledge that blogging can give students the valuable experience of writing publicly amongst people of varying backgrounds and education. Blogging as a composition activity or assignment prepares students for professionalism in the digital age, where interconnectivity and writing in public forums is an aspect of daily personal and professional lives. Their examination of the students’ preparation and content on four composition class blogs, a course entry and exit questionnaires, and interviews with composition instructors showed that instructors will face challenges fostering digital literacy by forcing blogging as an activity.

While Benson and Reyman found that blogging offered opportunities for learning about writing in a public space, instructors still encountered issues of protecting students privacy. Blogging does create a writing atmosphere that is public and open, but student writing still needs to be assessed and evaluated in a protected environment which is difficult to create online. The balance of creating a public blog space for composition students while maintaining a safe space for learning can be very difficult, as also seen in “Writing and Citizenship: Using Blogs to Teach First-Year Composition” by Charles Tryon. Benson and Reyman concluded that writing course blogs have the potential to teach digital literacy and citizenship, if instructors are responsibly protecting the students privacy (which means that the space should not be entirely public). This balance means that for a successful blogging environment, teachers have to “manufacture” a public environment without it actually being public. As we see in Tyron’s article, students writing to an entirely public audience can subject students to a space that is not conducive for student writing. Benson and Reyman hope that despite the challenges of blogging, writing teachers will still use blogs a collaborative tool to help students engage with digital literacy and learn how to professionally interact with meaningful, public forums.

Tyron also held the same hope despite the difficulties his students encountered when engaging with a public audience. He thought that the students no longer passive spectators but instead contributors to larger conversation gave students the opportunity to be a part of something greater than what can transpire in the classroom alone. He also found that the opportunity to blog inspired students to participate in a meaningful social and political way. He found blogs as a successful and valuable way to get students grappling with rhetoric and audience while learning about citizenship, democracy, and digital literacy.

Struggling with the issues of digital literacy is an undertaking that all composition teachers should be discussing and working towards. Writing using public and social forums is a form of composition that also addresses the complexity of teaching students to write across the curriculum. Whether a student’s interest is sociology or chemistry, there are many people writing publicly about the current issues, questions, and problems the field is facing. Allowing students to engage with conversations occurring digitally and publicly, gives students the opportunity for a tangible writing experience. One that they can understand the meaning and importance of. While I understood the concerns of Benson and Reyman that we saw transpire early on in Tyron’s article, I also think it is important for students to experience public criticism of their writing. Personally, I think it would be fascinating to allow students to engage with a public, non-manufactured audience, and take the feedback or commentary from their readers and incorporate it in revision exercises. I think that any opportunity that allows students to engage with criticism and revision can be turned into a positive one, and in a blogging platform, it could be massively helpful in teaching students responsible digital citizenship. In my experience, students respond to authenticity more than manufactured scenarios. I think even if it is encountering and embracing criticism, the authenticity of keeping blogging public can truly inspire students to write and read content that they have a passion about.

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Digital Media and The Transactional Theory

One of the threads that I noticed running through each of the readings this week was the emphasis on teaching students “habits of mind” (Jenkins) or “habits of thought” (Clark). The Lessig TED Talk further noted the importance of emphasizing creativity, a characteristic/action listed in Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing as a significant habit for students to practice or be mindful of. One argument for teaching habits, rather than skills, is that values within the field of composition or in the discourse of technology/digital literacy are constantly changing or evolving. Fostering habits allows students to gain access to knowledge or practices that are transferable to other discourses or disciplines.

However, this was not what I was most interested in. Some of the rhetoric used in these readings, mostly in Lawrence Lessig’s TED Talk, reminded me of Louise Rosenblatt’s Transactional Theory , covered in English 715 (theories in postsecondary reading education). This theory suggests that reading and writing are not just “interactions” – to Rosenblatt, this term implies that there is only a give and take (one consumes, stops, and then creates, and stops…etc.).

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This “stop,” she argues, is unrealistic. More accurately, she suggests that consuming and creating are simultaneous “transactions” that happen all the time, at the same time, without end. This relationship is a continuous cycle with infinite intersections.

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When Lessig discussed the nature of the revived “read-write” culture and the relationship between the “consumer” and “creator,” I immediately remembered the “Transactional Theory.” For some reason, this helped illustrate the ways in which students, or people in general, engage with technology.

Rosenblatt’s text was read to inform our understanding of integrated reading and writing (IRW) courses. I’m wondering if I can make more connections between approaches or practices associated with digital media with IRW approaches or practices – not just surface-level connections like similar activities or assignments used in each curriculum, but I want to analyze each discourses’ values and ideology. I think that new media and technology can definitely be used in IRW classes, but I want to consider why these things seem to fit so well together.

I think this post got a little drafty towards the end…it sounds like I’m about to start writing a damn essay. However, I thought the connections between IRW concepts and new media/digital media ideas were interesting, and hopefully you’ll find it interesting too.

P.S. If you loved the singing Jesus video in the TED Talk as much as I did, please click on the cat: =^..^= ~

Effective Online Writing

n this week’s blog I’m supposed to write about teaching writing online. I could regale you with student success stories from my online course. I could point to the ever popular Turn It In, a must-have for the savvy college comp professor on the vigilant trail of plagiarism. Nope. Not gonna do it.

Instead I want to share with you some insightful tips for using social media effectively and watching what you write. Social media is writing online, among a few other things both savory and salacious, but we’re not going there. No no, gentle reader. We’re going to the heart of the pithy post, the terrific Tweet, and the sensational status update: respect for and knowledge of the audience. That, and a bit of fun, after the break.

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15 Megabytes of Fame

Michael Wesch’s compelling video An anthropological introduction to YouTube is a Rosetta Stone for the current state (give or take a few years) of the video blog or vlog.

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He highlights and translates a possible meaning for the shared experiences of Gary Brolsma’s Numa Numa, Juan Mann’s Free Hugs, and Lonely Girl 15, while thankfully leaving Brittany alone.

What is intriguing yet utterly confusing to me is the need to share one’s innermost thoughts or outright silliness with this cold and cynical world. Where would Numa Numa Gary have lipsinked before YouTube? Would Free Hugs Juan still be seeking a little warmth in a pre-internet life? How would he have been received by passers by? And what about Lonely Girl 15? Would she still be a soap opera queen in training, but in a different venue?

And what about all the copycats?

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Is this any different than me and my friends pretending to be The Supremes when we were kids? We were just having fun, sharing the experience of a song we loved and at the tender age of 8, a group we emulated. When the eccentric Charles Caleb Colton wrote “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” I doubt he had his kid brother in mind. Yet hundreds of emulators and autotuners are only sharing the love, right? What makes us want to imitate and remix and mashup? Is this the only way we can acquire our god given 15 megabytes of fame?

When I invite my students into the visual rhetoric conversation, where will I draw the line? How do I grade a re-envisioning of mashup of a repost?

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While I love the absolute joy and liberation from the drudgery of grad school that free-form video allows, I am ever practical and looking for a way to teach this genre of visual rhetoric without losing site of critical thinking. Your thoughts and ideas are most welcome below.

Addendum and Reflection

I went to a Community of Practice workshop yesterday sponsored by Berkeley City College and The Academy for College Excellence. My takeaway is that there are definitely more inspiring uses of online video and social networking that I can share and discuss with students. I do not look down on the imitators, autotuners and mashup artistes of the world. Collective entertainment and shared experience has its place and makes me laugh. However, at the end of the day, I want a bit more substance. For example, look at the work of Oluwaseun Odewale, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard. He writes about elections in his home country, Nigeria:

Of the 87 million mobile phone users in Nigeria (44 million of which have access to the Internet), it was an interesting trend to see how social media, for the first time, was adopted and, quite interestingly, adapted, to ensure credibility of the electoral process in Nigeria.

And then there is the social justice work we are doing with ACE, to promote success for basic skills students.

Ah Violetta! A different kind of Multi-Tasking? Collaborative Function as an Index of PostModernity

Recently, at a desk bestrewn with empty coffee cups, a half-dozen books, digital audio equipment, handwritten lists, old syllabi, and class notebooks, I’ve found myself multitasking. Similarly, my typically tidy virtual desktop has become cluttered with quite a number of pdf articles, garage band files, electronic “sticky” notes in all colors, word documents in various states of editing or abandonment, and a slew of photos awaiting sifting and sorting.

Given the mundane/virtual dust-devil of texts I’ve been interacting with and generating these days, I’m very interested in the discussion of multi-tasking I’ve been encountering in critical discussions of digital and new literacy.  After all, if my desk/desktop is any indication, shouldn’t I, as a multi-tasker with a laptop at the heart of it all, be able to find myself represented in articles discussing digital textuality and new media?

Lankshear and Knobel, in their 2004 plenary address to the NRC, “New” Literacies:  Research and Social Practice, commented glowingly on the work of Angela Thomas, noting her interest in the “ways in which children construct their identities in multimodal digital worlds,” and held her research up as “an excellent exemplar of how weblogs and chat spaces, among other online media, can be used as research tools.”

When I cam upon Lankshear and Knobel’s discussion of Thomas, I was drawn to the words of Violetta, one of the digital insiders interviewed online by Thomas:

I need to make a confession right now, I am talking to you but at the same time I am talking to this cool guy Matt who I know from school, and trying to do some homework – an essay for which I am hunting some info on the web – you know, throw in some jazzy pics from the web and teachers go wild about your ‘technological literacy skills’ skills.  Big deal.  If they ever saw me at my desk right now, ME, the queen of multi-tasking, they’d have no clue what was happening.

Re-reading Violetta’s last line gives me, a teacher and older user of technology, pause.  Don’t older or less frequent user-creators of new media, many of us latecomers to the party, multitask too?  Are our styles of multitasking really so different from Violetta’s?

In “Sampling the New Literacies” Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel write:

Multitasking has become ubiquitous among digital youth.  Moreover, the multitasking mode is not seen simply [as] some casual kind of modes operandi confined to interactions with one’s closest friends – as when chatting, roleplaying, updating a weblog, IM-ing, etc. simultaneously . . . . Rather it is widely seen as a way of operating that applies generally in everyday life at home, at school and at play. (15)

On the basis of such input, I’m still not convinced that Violetta has anything on me.  I like to sneak a text out to a friend during class at least as much (hell, perhaps more than) most of my students.  And, to be sure, I’ll leave facebook open while paying bills, g-chatting, answering professional correspondence, writing for fun, emailing my parents, taking notes for a role playing game, listening to music, or playing/recording a guitar.

Through coordinations of self/technology/and context, we perceive ourselves, and intuit how others may read us.

However, Lankshear and Knobel do have more to offer.  In positioning their concept of new literacy into the discourse theory of James Gee, they cover the idea of coordinations through which our situated-selves enact literacies within discourse.  This catchall phrase reminds us to consider the myriad elements bound up with incarnating literacy:  thoughts, feelings, rules, institutions, tools, accessories, clothes, language, etc.  “Within such coordinations,” according to Gee, “we humans become recognizable to ourselves and to others and recognize ourselves, other people, and things as meaningful in distinctive ways.”

Perhaps Violetta’s statement suggests a refined sense of how the various coordinations invoked in her digital literacy present (or interpolate, in the Althusserian sense) her as a subject, one with creative agency, but one who also may be seen, even studied, as such.  After all, she casually mocks teachers for praising even a cursory expression of “technological literacy.”  That is, to take up Gee’s reasoning, she has a subtle awareness of how the coordinations that frame the ongoing practice of her own literacy simultaneously enables her generative self-styling of a public persona and provides surfaces through which others may find her persona legible.

Thinking through Gee’s coordinations again, which include thinking and feeling, I’m led to consider the possibility that, even if people like Violetta and I each use some of the same technology, perhaps even in somewhat similar ways, perhaps the way we think and feel about our respective digital practices are what matter.

In Lankshear and Knobel’s charting of the ethoi underpinning the practices of typographic and digital textuality, we find a wide range of theory suggesting that typographic literacy and digital literacy carry with them a number of rather different assumptions, such as the way in which ideas are given value – such as through scarcity (typographic) or sharing (digital).  I grew up in a world in which the economic model of scarcity-derived value gave ideas and academic credentials their feeling of worth; not everybody had them.  This kind of thinking is of course still with us, and I hear it expressed whenever a student expresses worry that someone might “steal”  his or her ” idea.”

Lankshear and Knobel quote Barlow’s perspicacious claim that “dispersion . . . has the value and [information’s] not a commodity, it’s a relationship and as in any relationship, the more that’s going back and forth the higher the value of the relationship” (11).

Perhaps this point isn’t so different from being, in the years before before GPS, lost with someone who checked a paper map versus being in the same situation with someone who was happy to ask for directions.  Is it worth starting a face-to-face relationship with someone when what you want is a bit of information? (Yes, this opens a fertile line of gender-based inquiry generally absent from the more accessible layers of the theory Lankshear and Knobel cite).

Barlow’s  idea, that information is conceptualized differently by practitioners of differing literacies, helps me to infer a possible difference between my own approach to the web and that of someone like Violetta.  Let me illustrate the point with a problem that came up during a recent period of multi-tasking heavily weighted toward my current academic commitments.

A few days ago, I encountered a problem using a forum a professor had set up using SFSU’s ilearn for a class.  I’d asked my professor to modify the default settings for the forum.  One of the side effects had been that all of the group members ended up locked out from posting to the forum.  Before alerting my instructor to the problem, I tried to query ilearn’s online help several times, and quickly came up against an electronic brick wall, a invitation to search that kept resulting in:  “There are currently no QuickGuides in the system that match your search criteria. Please try again.”

Reflecting on the matter now with Barlow’s statement in mind, I realize that I tried to solve the ilearn problem from a scarcity-model informational standpoint; the smart money would have been to solve it relationally, to find someone who could help me step by step through the situation, perhaps through the obviously displayed email or chat support options.  Seeking that kind of help isn’t as comfortably in my playbook.   Looking back, I realize I  also have a few people in my networks (both professional and social) with whom I might have interacted in order to solve my problem.

Why didn’t I?  I bet that, in terms of digital  literacy, I am several, even 10s of thousand of hours short of Violetta’s time online.  If indeed, as Walter Ong famously wrote, “Writing is a Technology that Restructures Thought,” Violetta and I may very well negotiate such problems differently.   I bet she would have gotten the results, and probably through a more social source than the help files I looked at, which are simply digital analogues of mundane owner’s manuals — a typographic solution.  A digital insider might ask: why open the manual when you can instant message an expert?  Perhaps Violetta might have started by asking that “cool guy Matt” she was already chatting with, and he might have had the answer.

I think that we might be in the midst of a social change that dethrones, or destabilizes, our traditional view of a narrowly defined executive function as the preeminent organizational skill.  It may be that this concept was formulated in an era of, or under the influence of values generated by, typographic literacy.  Perhaps collaborative function, an ability to effectively access collective sources of knowledge, is a more apt descriptor of the underlying capability for problem solving in the digital era.

Where is the collaboration in this executive function model?

Lankshear and Knobel note how wikipedia, for example, “leverages collective intelligence for knowledge production in the public domain.”  The literature on digital literacy that has come across my workspaces of late suggests that some kind of collaborative function will increasingly trump the sort of executive function that typically is associated with students’ ability to focus.  If we fail to recognize this, we not only impair our own digital literacy, and misunderstand the classroom presence of our students, but also, even while using digital and new media, stage our attempts at problem-solving with a scarcity-based model of information lurking in the wings.

Given the frequency with which New Media theorists invoke Jameson, Derrida, and other postmodern luminaries, it has become difficult to disassociate digital textuality from postmodernity itself.  Lankshear and Knobel note that the 2.0 digital mindset may be seen “as an aspect of the postmodern spirit.”  In “Blinded by the Letter:  Why Are We Using Literacy as a Metaphor for Everything Else?” Anne Frances Wysocki and Johndan Johnson-Eilola contrast, in a line of inquiry somewhat parallel to the scarcity/dispersion dichotomy, the private linearity of printed consciousness and the spatialized intertextuality of digital thinking.

Perhaps the world where the full implications of “an unseen network of reference” that is “visible, navigable, writable and readable, on our computer screens” is also the world of collaborative function, where users not only see/access links between texts, but are much more free to see/access the social relationships based upon textual exchange, the affective and informational networks through which texts, reified artifacts, useless in themselves, are transmitted and granted meaning.

In my youth, fan-generated responses to Star Wars often looked more like this.

Where Violetta and I may well overlap, in terms of our digital-literary consciousness, though, would be in our appreciation of fan-generated media.  Consider this fan-generated video of a Star Wars space battle, which reveals  the fervor and technical prowess of the normally faceless imperial pilots that form part of the menacing backdrop  of the films.

Sleigh Bells

Although my information-seeking instincts may be still been conditioned by a youth of scarcity-consciousness, at least I’ve come this far – I can admire fan-fictive remixing, and don’t want to see either Lucasfilm (or Sleigh Bells, which someone other than the fan-author added to the vid as a righteous musical backdrop)  pull down the video by flexing their scarcity-derived intellectual property rights.  I’d go further, and assert this fan-creator’s right to draw upon these sources to make new texts.  Many of you are probably already familiar with Larry Lessig’s TED talk on Read/Write culture, so I won’t belabor the matter.

One last takeaway from Violetta’s statement, I think, is that we don’t want, by studying digital and new medial literacies, to fetishize their demonstration.  Users like Violetta are aware that their practices are the subject of academic/pedagogical inquiry and appropriation.  They may know all too well that scholars like Lankeshear and Knobel dedicate works like “Sample ‘The New’ in New Literacies” to “the young (and not so young) digital insiders who inspire people like us.”   In that spirit, let’s make sure we do our best, then, to listen to what student-users have to teach us about working collaboratively with new media.

Get Digitally Literate Quick!

The theme of this weeks reading is ‘New’ Literacies. My reading consisted of three articles titled “New Literacy” – that is three separate academic articles with the same title. So, what is New literacy? What is “new” about it?

Teaching ‘new’ literacies (that is, reading and writing activities and more that take place in digital environments) is the new trend in composition classrooms. However, when we teach ‘new literacies’ we should be careful with getting on the bandwagon without reevaluating what we actually want to teach and want students to learn.

We should re-conceive ‘new’ literacies as not just a new label, a new term to sum up a cool new way to write online, but as a new way of thinking, of creating agency, of performing  and of creating an identity and composing meaning. In their introduction to A New Literacies Sampler, “Sampling ‘the New’ in New Literacies.”  Lankshear and Knobel refer to new digital environments as “techno stuff” and the way in which we use and engage with them, “ethos stuff.” Teaching new literacies needs to be more than just introducing an online reading and writing forum. Something is only a new literacy when it engages with “ethos stuff” –“[which] are more “participatory,” “collaborative,” and “distributed” in nature than conventional literacies.” (NLS 9). Techno stuff is the new medium, new blogs or videos or memes; ethos stuff is the way we engage with that new techno stuff. New literacies are only new, Lankshear and Knobel argue, when we engage with both new forms and new ways of using the forms.

For example, If a student writes a standard five-paragraph essay and puts it on a blog, there isn’t anything ‘new’ about that literacy. This pushes us past just using digital environments to interacting and engaging with them. So, as compositionists, how we do we foster this? A new lesson plan on blogs?

Lankshear and Knobel, in their other new literacy article, “New Literacies: Research and Practice” state that “we would like to see a moratorium on research that ‘delivers’ activities and modules and professional development ‘tricks’ designed for classroom application” (Lankshear and Knobel 3).


New literacy is not a ‘get quick rich scheme.’ Putting a standard essay online doesn’t make it innovative. Similarly, equipping instructors with lesson plans that claim to create or enable new literacies in their students doesn’t get at the goal or heart of new literacies, that is, the ‘etho stuff.’ Instructors need to be equipped with not just the tools, but the ways to use those tools in meaningful and engaging ways. Something only works when it works.

For, when we engage in new literacies in a non-productive way, we are continuing the thought that new media is only a medium, not a new way of engaging and thinking.

In “Blinded by the Letter” Wysocki and Johnson-Eilola warn against pasting the label of ‘literacy’ onto new digital environments. The term ‘literacy’ often evokes a neutral association to the ability to read and write. They argue, however, that if literacy is just a discrete set of skills to master, those who do not have it are somehow lacking or deficient (723). When we then use this term in conjunction with digital literacy, ‘we ask them, by using a conception of literacy that allows us to ask them, to blame themselves.’ (723). If we think of technological literacy as an ‘skill’ rather than, like print literacy, ties to power, agency, and class inequity, we assume that those who don’t have it have failed, are not adequate. Wysocki and Johnson-Eliola push, then, to connect digital literacy with the same powers we attribute to literacy for they do, especially now 12 years later, increasingly have ties to.

(disclaimer: this meme is for example only – to show the innate ties literacy can have to power, agency, and class inequity.)

They then posit that we should move our definition of literacy to one that embodies a spatial relationship, not temporal or linear. I’m reminded of Nicki’s description of her many screens open “deftly maneuvering between my laptop’s split-screen (Google Chrome on the right, displaying a pdf along with numerous tabs of research material, and on the left, Microsoft Onenote.” It is easy to forget that when this article was written, 1999 , the so-called ‘information super highway’ was still a burgeoning idea. Now, we flip between screens like nobody’s business, deftly moving from one application to the next, scrolling and refreshing, while often also simultaneously looking at our phones or iPods. I’ve seen people out with a laptop, an iPad, and an iPhone. One screen, or one application, is not enough anymore. But how we do we tap this resource in the classroom?

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Reflecting back on Lankshear and Knobel’s “New Literacies” we want to do more than show our students these cool new interfaces or demonstrate how to flip between programs. Instead, we should strive, as Cynthia Lewis describes in another reiteration of “New Literacies” from  Sampling, that “ we need to know what writers of new literacies do when they write—what they think about and how they negotiate the demands of new forms and processes of writing (NSL 229).

“What they (students who are being introduced to a digital literacy discourse) all have in common is the belief that true agency is arrived at through a mixture of process and product, learner control and imposed limits. The most important ingredient, however, is a meta-awareness of how the domain works and how one might work the domain” (Lewis 231). The question then, is how do we invoke this? How do we implement actual ‘new literacies’ in our classroom that are not “get digitally literate quick’ schemes. We want students to engage with not only the ‘techno stuff’ of new digital environments but also the ‘ethos stuff’ – how, why, for what purpose and to what extent are they using digital environments.